Seema Wadhwa is executive director for environmental stewardship for Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest health care providers in the U.S. By 2050, it aims to be net zero. Under Wadhwa’s leadership, this year Kaiser Permanente’s office in Santa Rosa, Calif., was recognized as the country’s first net-zero medical facility.
What sustainability effort do you hope will gain popularity with the general public this year, and why?
Putting health at the center of climate action and viewing the climate crisis as a health emergency is the greatest opportunity ahead. According to the World Health Organization, climate change is the greatest threat to human health, yet only 3% of Americans recognize that threat. By linking climate and health, we can create a common ground that every individual, community, corporation, and governmental agency could understand and organize around. If every person looked at their choices and actions with a lens on the ultimate impact on their health, I believe we would be acting with a greater sense of urgency.
Where should climate activism go in the next year?
No community, organization, or sector can solve the climate crisis alone. Ultimately, it will take radical collaboration to move beyond incremental action. Effective, meaningful collaboration means broadening the definition of a climate activist to be more inclusive, and to bring those who are most impacted to the table to put a focus on equitable solutions. Working with partners who have not traditionally been at the table and collaborating for novel solutions is the type of activism we need for effective solutions.
What’s the most important climate legislation that could pass in the next year?
In the face of the worsening impacts of the climate crisis that are already devastating communities, our community infrastructure must be made more resilient. Legislation that prioritizes comprehensive risk and resilience preparedness benefits all of us and ensures communities are prepared for and can recover from environmental hazards. This is particularly important for communities that are disproportionately impacted. Simultaneously, safeguarding critical infrastructure for health care—including medical facilities, supply chain, and disaster preparedness/response—is crucial to meet climate challenges now and in the future. Integrating these elements into policy would create robust frameworks, mitigate vulnerabilities, and build a more resilient nation better equipped for the escalating impacts of a changing climate.
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